Half-Artificial Intelligence (From Back-Office to Back-Brain)

Prediction of an emergent trend: integration of cheap overseas labour into ‘intelligent’ systems, to fill the gaps where ‘hard AI’ still fails.

The press is making a lot of ‘offshoring’ — the movement of call centres, support departments and the like to countries where educational standards are high, and labour is cheap. Ignoring the politics for a bit, this is interesting in other ways: once the infrastructure for such services is in place, the supply side of this market will naturally be looking for higher-margin ways to exploit any surpluses.

Imagine similar businesses offering the ‘clever, value-added bit’ to intelligent web search, or to collaborative filtering — much more cheaply and quickly than an otherwise huge investment in Research and Development. We’ve usually imagined the fleshy part to be the interface of the half-human, half-machine, but it feels to me that it’s much more likely, imminent and cost-efficient, to do it the other way around.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, but a recent email from Tim has brought it up again, with reference to the small person hidden in the base of the chess-playing automaton…


  1. Coincidentally, KcKinsey have just published a report on possibly related things (which I can’t read as I’m not a ‘premium’ member of their site. sigh) I’ll try and get it in print…

  2. i don’t remember where i read it now, but… you know the authorization scheme designed to stop bots where you have to retype the numbers and letters in an obscured image… someone has been routing around this by duplicating the request on their free pr0n site and feeding the answer back to their bot. want more pr0n? then answer the question for them

    there should be a really great word for farming the effort of pr0n viewers in this way

  3. love the pr0n mining.
    now for spam?
    was thinking about this in terms of collaborative mail filters that are engineered to identify fleshy writers
    meanwhile I’m having whole nightloads of disconbobulated ethical dilemas.
    not sure why — perhaps because I heard that many Offshorers are getting nasty health problems and going wacko due to the graveyard shifting.
    Anecdote: I got 20 copies of Quark for a client; they have an online activation routine; their online server was down; I had 5 days; I waited 5 days; it was still down and the Quarks were about to expire and my client would be pissed; I called (in a hurry) Quark tech support to do a “telephone activation”. Process — you have to recite a *lot* of numbers (thankfully no letters) for each activation; the very tired and thickly Indian woman on the other end recites back a *lot* more numbers for *each* activation. Anyway, to cut a LONG story short it took about 2 hours.


  4. hmm…warwanking?

    On the Quark thing, yes I’ve been through that to. And I’ll resist the urge to vent on my opinion of Quark 6 and its registration system, other than to say that I haven’t seen a single copy yet here in the UK that would actually register out of the box with the codes that come with it. In every case, I’ve been on that incredibly low-quality seemingly-VoIP line to India for up to an hour per call, with most of that time spent trying to get the people at the other end to read the 40-character activation string back to be PHONETICALLY so I could actually get it right. And then waiting a few hours for their database to ‘update’ (what do they run it on? a 2650 with a paper-tape reader?)

    Quark’s is the most wrong offshoring I’ve personally encountered. Why they can’t have a web-based system to do this rather than such a tedious and frustrating use of liveware, I can’t see — there’s no intelligence, speed or value being added through having people on the other end of that line…

  5. have a great segment from NOW on PBS on our ReplayTV with some of the training in Bangalore? … there is a lovely Indi (so-to-speak) Doc waiting to be made that would be as of-the-moment as “24” …

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